Category Archives: General Information

Tears of Joy and Sadness

The formal surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia took place on Wednesday, April 12th, 1865, exactly four years after the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Brig. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain was placed in charge of planning and conducting the ceremonies, and his only goal was to mark the occasion with an air of dignity, solemnity, and respect for the 28,000 Confederate soldiers who laid down their arms.

Chamberlain described part of the ceremony in his memoir The Passing of Armies: (Maj. Gen. John) Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!

The original members of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry had enlisted during the summer of 1862 for a term of “three years or the duration.” By any measure they had done their duty. Joy turned instantly to deepest gloom when word was received on the 15th of the assassination of President Lincoln. A funeral service for their Commander in Chief was conducted at brigade headquarters on May 19th, even as the Lincoln’s state funeral was being held in the East Room of the White House.

Only one objective remained—return home to Connecticut, but it would happen on army time. They set up their tents near Appomattox the way they always had, in neat rows that formed streets, and camped out for three weeks. Finally, on May 2nd, they packed up their gear and began their last march. On May 6th, the Fourteenth held the lead position in the long Second Corps column as they marched through the ruins of Richmond. Then they passed in review before Gen. Henry Halleck, who watched from the steps for the former Confederate capitol building.

May 10th was a memorable day for the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut. In reverent silence they passed by the battlefield at Spotsylvania. They entered Fredericksburg from the south, passing over Marye’s Heights and down onto that dreadful plain of death where the regiment had been shattered nearly two and a half years earlier. Pontoons still bridged the Rappahannock and that evening they camped at Falmouth, very near the ground they had occupied during the long, cold winter of 1862-1863.

They reached Alexandria on May 15th, then marched in a grand review around the Capitol and down Pennsylvania Avenue. General Hancock was in attendance and one can only imagine the hearty cheers that arose from his old corps.

Finally, on May 31st, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry received their formal discharge papers. They boarded a train and headed north through Baltimore and Philadelphia. At New York they transferred to a steamship bound for Hartford, where they arrived early on June 8th. It seemed the entire city had turned out to welcome them home, and after being suitably feted and fed, the men said their farewells and drifted away in twos and threes toward Union Station to begin the final leg of their long journey home.

PERSONAL NOTE: After almost three years and 161 blog posts, this is my last article about the Fourteenth Connecticut. It has been a privilege to honor these men and keep their record of service alive. I will keep this blog active so you can always reference it.

But do not despair. I’m starting a new Civil War video blog next Friday, May 1st, titled “Civil War Sites: On Earth and in Cyberspace.” Same schedule, same great author, new and interesting content about some of the neat things I’ve come across while researching my novels. I do hope you’ll join me. Follow me on Twitter to receive messages when a new blog is posted or you can always access my new blog (starting May 1st) through my website:  www.kbacon.com.

The Chase Begins

The night of April 2-3, Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered the Army of Northern Virginia to abandon Petersburg and Richmond, march about forty miles west along different routes, and reassemble at Amelia Courthouse. The ultimate goal was to escape to Danville or Lynchburg, unite with Gen. Joe Johnston’s army in North Carolina, and deal the Union army a stunning defeat. But the most pressing issue for Lee was the need for food, so Lee ordered supply trains to head for Amelia Courthouse as well.

Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant knew that direct assaults upon Lee’s entrenchment at Petersburg would cost many thousands of casualties. Instead, Grant’s strategy was to force Lee’s army out from its cover into the open where they could be be pursued and, hopefully forced to surrender. It was Maj. Gen Phil Sheridan’s job to ride west along a route parallel to, but south of Lee’s, and prevent Lee from turning south toward Danville or Lynchburg. Union infantry, including the Seconds Corps, which included the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers would chase Lee’s army from behind. (Click for Wikipedia map.)

The Confederates marched into Amelia Courthouse on April 4, but no wagon trains loaded with rations had arrived. The following day, on empty bellies, Lee’s men marched south, but soon came upon Sheridan’s troopers. Lee ordered his weary troops to march another twenty miles to Farmville on the South Side Railroad where surely, there would be rations for the men, and feed for the animals.

Once again, Sheridan spoiled Lee’s plans. Most of Lee’s army crossed to the north side of the Appomattox River, but Sheridan trapped about 18,000 Confederates (about one fourth of Lee’s total strength) south of the river. In the Battle of Sailor’s (Sayler’s Creek), Sheridan lost about a thousand men, but Lee lost four generals captured, including Richard Ewell, almost 8,000 men taken prisoner, and unknown numbers killed or wounded.

Despite the high drama that was being played out a few miles west of them, this cryptic chronicle of those few days appears in the regimental history: “At two o’clock (a.m.) April 4th, the march was resumed and rations were served until the regiment marched forward. It rained some during the day and a train of wagons and some prisoners were captured.” (Could the 14th Connecticut captured one of the wagon trains Lee was waiting for?) “April 5th the regiment started early and marched all day, being out as skirmishers, driving the Rebels continuously and taking some prisoners. At night the regiment went out on picket.”

Next week, we’ll take a look at the Fourteenth Connecticut’s final battle of the war.

The Rebellion Has Gone Up

“April 2nd the regiment moved still farther to the left to the Boydton Plank Road and then advanced in line of battle through the rebel works, the enemy falling back as they approached.” (Charles D. Page, History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry.) I wish there was a glorious tale to tell of the exploits of the Fourteenth Connecticut, but in fact all of the fighting done on this momentous day was done by other units, and only one of the Second Corps three divisions saw any fighting.

The general assault ordered by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant began at about 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 2nd. Almost simultaneously, in the first gray light of dawn, the Union Ninth and Sixth Corps surged forward from their entrenchments and crossed the no man’s land between the lines.

The Ninth Corps, under Maj. Gen. John Parke, assaulted the Confederate works around Fort Mahone on the east side of Petersburg. The Confederates were led by Maj. Gen. John Gordon. Surging Federals swept up and over Fort Mahone and three other strongholds, but Gordon organized determined counterattacks and a desperate struggle began to retake the forts. This fight continued for the remainder of the day, until defeats elsewhere caused Gen. Lee to order Gordon to withdraw all of his troops to Petersburg’s inner defensive perimeter.

In the predawn hours of that Sunday morning, Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright deployed his troops in a wedge formation in front of their entrenchments. They too went forward at first light, led by Brig. Gen. George Getty’s Division. Within half an hour they had broken through the lightly held Confederate lines. The defenders were put to flight and the bulk of the Sixth Corps turned left, away from Petersburg, to exploit their gains. A few units didn’t get the message about the left turn and continued straight across the Boydton Plank Road. Two enlisted men from the 138th PA became separated and were approached by two Confederate officers on horseback, who demanded that they surrender. Instead the two Union boys hid behind a tree, took careful aim and fired. One of the officers was unhurt, but the other was killed instantly—Lt. Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill. Civil War Preservation Trust Map of the Sixth Corps breakthrough.

It is conceivable that had the Sixth Corps turned right instead of left, they could have marched right into Petersburg, because the western portion of the inner defenses was not yet manned as it would be later in the day. As it was, the Twenty-fourth Corps, under Maj. Gen. John Gibbon, followed the Sixth Corps through the shattered Confederate line and did turn toward Petersburg. During the afternoon they were engaged in heavy fighting at Forts Gregg and Whitworth. The forts were finally taken, but the Confederate defenders had bought enough time for troops from Longstreet’s Corps to man the western portion of Petersburg’s inner defensive line.

And what of the Second Corps? The First Division, under Maj. Gen. Nelson Miles and attached to Sheridan’s western command, was sent to deal with a body of troops under the command of Maj. Gen. Henry Heth that was retreating northward after the Sixth Corps breakthrough. Heth entrenched his command along the South Side Railroad near Sutherland Station. Miles’ Federals charged once and were repulsed. A second charge was defeated as well. Miles’ sent a desperate message to Maj. Gen. Humphreys, the commander of the Second Corps, pleading for help. In the meantime, Mile’s had the Confederate position scouted and a new plan of attack was devised. The third Federal assault broke the enemy lines and Heth’s command was driven northward toward the Appomattox River.

The boys in the Fourteenth Connecticut never fired a shot that day. After they advanced into the abandoned works mentioned at the start of this post, Maj. Gen. George Meade ordered Humphreys to march the rest of his corps east toward Petersburg. When Miles’ plea for help arrived, they turned around and marched west toward Sutherland. Then word came that the First Division had been victorious, so the two divisions about-faced again and struck off once more for Petersburg.

Grant’s general assault had been successful beyond his wildest imagining all along the front. That night. Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman, aide to Gen. Meade, scribbled a short note to his wife: “My Dear Mimi : The Rebellion has gone up!”

The Beginning of the End

“Monday and Tuesday, March 27th and 28th, 1865, the Fourteenth rested in its comfortable camp for the last time as on the morning of the 29th they marched out through the picket line and moved up Hatcher’s Run, drove in the rebel picket and threw up two lines of breastworks.” (Sgt. Charles Blatchley, Company I, Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry)

And thus the final campaign of the Civil war began for the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut. Not very exciting stuff, but what they were doing was an important piece of the puzzle that was Gen. Grant’s grand plan for ending the war quickly and victoriously.

A war strategy conference had taken place aboard the steamboat River Queen at City Point on March 27th. Present were President Lincoln, Generals Grant and Sherman, and Admiral Porter. Sometime during the day Gen. Phil Sheridan also put in an appearance. He had just arrived with his cavalry corps after marching all the way from Winchester, VA. Grant gave Sheridan orders to march his command all the way to the southwest end of the Federal siege works around Petersburg. Sheridan’s cavalry and the Fifth Corps of infantry under Gen. G. K. Warren were to force the enemy to come out from behind their entrenchments and fight in the open. They were also to destroy the South Side Railroad, the only railroad link between Gen. Lee’s army and that of Gen. Joe Johnston in North Carolina. (Click to view a Wikipedia map of this part of the campaign.)

The role of Gen. Humphrey’s Second Corps was to move to the left (west) and keep pressure on the Confederates to their front, so that these troops couldn’t be sent to confront Sheridan and Warren. To the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut, this duty wasn’t special in any way, thus the brevity of the description at the start of this post.

Heavy rains plagued the area until March 31st, but the strategic plan was implemented in spite of it. On March 29th, Gen. Warren’s troops fought and won a back-and-forth battle at Lewis’s Farm. On March 31st, several miles to the south, Gen. Sheridan wasn’t so fortunate when he tried to advance toward an important crossroads called Five Forks. A joint force of Confederate infantry and cavalry under Gen. George Pickett of Gettysburg fame, slowly drove Sheridan’s troopers east and south toward the Boydton Plank Road. Sheridan called up Gen. Custer’s Division and the Federal cavalry line held off assaults late in the day near Dinwiddie Courthouse. That night, Pickett withdrew his cavalry and infantry northwest to Five Forks.

The action around Dinwiddie Courthouse is considered a Confederate victory, even though they suffered over twice as many casualties, 760 to 350 for the Federals. It was also the final time Lee’s forces would fight offensively.

A WORD ABOUT COMMAND: If you’re interested in the command structure of the Union Army during the Appomattox Campaign, click here. It can be confusing, especially when we consider the Fourteenth Connecticut (Second (II) Corps, Second Division, Third Brigade). In February, Brig. Gen. Thomas Smyth was in command of the division. Early in March, Brig. Gen. William Hays, who was captured at Chancellorsville, returned from serving provost duty and was assigned command of the division. Smyth returned to command of the Third Brigade. On April 6th, Hays was found sleeping on duty and dismissed. Smyth once again assumed temporary command of the Second Division, but his divisional command lasted less than one day, because Brig. Gen. Francis Barlow was assigned permanent command. On April 7th Smyth was once again in command of the Third Brigade when he was mortally wounded at Farmville. Smyth died on April 9th, the day on which Lee surrendered. Smyth was the last Union general officer and the last man of the Third Brigade to die during the war.

A Fort Too Far

As winter came to a close along the front at Petersburg, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s main concern was how to save his dwindling, starving army from annihilation, but he was unsure of what course of action he should follow. Lee asked the opinion of Maj. Gen. John Gordon, a young but veteran commander of the Army of Northern Virginia’s Second Corps. Gordon’s reply was simple: 1) ask Grant for peace terms, or 2) abandon Petersburg and Richmond and march south toward Joe Johnston’s army in North Carolina, or 3) fight soon.

On March 6th, Lee told Gordon to plan an attack. “To stand still was death,” Lee said. “It could only be death if we fought and failed.” Gordon devised a desperate but well-conceived plan—a surprise attack under the cover of darkness, first with small squads of troops with special assignments, with thousands more standing ready to exploit any breakthrough in the enemy’s lines. The goal was to fight their way all the way to City Point, disrupt the Union supply lines, and force Grant to reduce the length of his siege lines. Nearly half of Lee’s army was ordered to assemble behind the Colquitt’s Salient, a portion of the Confederate line that was quite close to the opposing Federal line at Fort Stedman.

Well before dawn on March 25th, small groups of engineers and riflemen stole across the no man’s land between the lines. They quietly captured Federal pickets and removed abatis and other obstructions. More troops moved stealthily up to the Federal entrenchments. In a sudden rush, they were inside. Fort Stedman was quickly taken, along with three artillery batteries and hundreds of yards of entrenchments north and south of the fort. Thousands of Confederate troops advanced into the breech, along with gun crews who turned captured artillery pieces around and fired on fleeing Federals. Gen. Gordon himself went forward to Fort Stedman to direct the next phase of the assault. (Click to view a map of the first phase.)

But then the plan started to unravel. Units that were supposed to conduct special operations got lost. Cavalry and thousands more troops that were to support the breakthrough failed to arrive when and where they were supposed too. Many of the starving troops in the initial assault wave stopped to feast on the bountiful rations they found in the Union camps. Early morning darkness gave way to daylight, allowing Federal troops to distinguish friend from foe. And the cool, decisive actions of a determined, little-known division commander of the Union Ninth Corps saved the day.

Brig. Gen. John Hartranft was in charge of the Ninth Corps reserve, while Maj. Gen. Orlando Willcox commanded the front line. After the breakthrough, Willcox believed the day lost, and was preparing to withdraw, when Hartranft asked for and was granted command of the field. Hartranft immediately ordered his two brigades of widely dispersed Pennsylvania regiments to encircle the attacking Rebel force. (Click for a map of the second phase.) Containment was quickly achieved, the tide was reversed, and by eight o’clock, the battle ended in complete defeat for Gordon’s Confederates. Union losses were about 1,000: 72 killed, 450 wounded, about 500 missing. Estimated Confederate losses were four times greater—about 600 killed, 2,400 wounded, more than 1,000 taken prisoner (some estimates as high as 2,000)—all of them men who Lee could never replace.

The Battle of Fort Stedman was, in the opinion of many historians the final chapter of the siege of Petersburg. It was entirely a Ninth Corps affair, so our boys in the Fourteenth Connecticut were not involved. However, they were not idle. With many of the enemy troops to their front sent east to Coquitt’s Salient, the men of the Second and Sixth Corps pushed forward. They captured and occupied long sections of the Confederates entrenched picket lines, extending the Federal siege lines farther to the west and closer to the enemy. This action was actually the opening scene of the final act of the long and bloody Civil War—the Appomattox Campaign.

Eating Out the Vitals

Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant knew the end of the war was near. He wrote of his grand strategy aimed at carving up the Confederacy during the winter of 1865 in his Personal Memoirs. One army, under Gen. Canby, was to move immediately on Mobile, AL, then secure Tuscaloosa, Selma and Montgomery. Gen. Sheridan was ordered to march up the Shenandoah Valley and take Lynchburg, VA. Cavalry forces were sent into eastern Tennessee and Mississippi. And the centerpiece of this strategy was “Sherman with a large army eating out the vitals of South Carolina.”

Gen. Sherman had taken Savannah just before Christmas. After a time to refit, resupply, and rest, the two wings of his army started to move into South Carolina about January 20th. The left (northern) wing was under Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum, the right (southern) wing was under Maj. Gen. O. O. Howard. Howard moved toward Charleston, then swung north, bypassing the city. Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, fell to Sherman on February 17th. Much of the city was reduced to ashes, and great debates still rage over which side actually started the fires. In great peril of being cutoff from the rest of what remained of the Confederate army, Confederates abandoned Charleston to the Federals the next day.

On the question of who burned Columbia Grant wrote, “In any case, the example set by the Confederates in burning the village of Chambersburg, Pa., a town which was not garrisoned, would seem to make a defense of the act of firing the seat of government of the State most responsible for the conflict then raging, not imperative.”

Meanwhile, on the 15th of January, Fort Fisher at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, was taken by combined Federal army and naval forces, and Wilmington, NC, the last major Confederate port on the eastern seaboard was cut off. A month later, when Gen. Schofield moved against Wilmington with a strong force, the Confederates abandoned the city. Schofield was put under Sherman’s command and ordered to move north toward Goldsboro, NC.

By the end of February, Sherman now had three strong armed columns ready to drive up though North Carolina toward Charlotte, Fayetteville, and Goldsboro. The distance between Sherman and Grant was decreasing every day. Grant, always a quartermaster at heart, paid close attention to his friend Sherman’s needs. “I took the precaution to provide for Sherman’s army,” Grant wrote, “in case he should be forced to turn in toward the sea coast before reaching North Carolina, by forwarding supplies to every place where he was liable to make such a deflection from his projected march. I also sent railroad rolling stock, of which we had a great abundance, now that we were not operating the roads in Virginia. The gauge of the North Carolina railroads, being the same as the Virginia railroads, had been altered too; these cars and locomotives were ready for use there without any change.”

And all the while Grant assured Sherman that he was well up on things at Petersburg. “From about Richmond I will watch Lee closely, and if he detaches much more (troops), or attempts to evacuate, will pitch in.”

 

The 40 Left at Andersonville

TWO HUNDRED NINETY soldiers from Connecticut died within the stockade walls of Andersonville Prison, also known as Camp Sumter. Of these, forty were members of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. They had been captured anytime from Chancellorsville in May 1863 until the siege at Petersburg. Some had already survived long months of imprisonment at Belle Isle in Richmond, while for others, Andersonville would be their only and final prison experience. Below is a list of the names of those forty men that I culled from Dorence Atwater’s A List Union Soldiers Buried at Andersonville. Each entry is arranged as follows:

Last name, First name or initials, Rank, Company, Death Date (1864), Cause of Death, Grave number. Lowercase “a” denotes acute and lowercase “c” denotes chronic, and it makes this writer wonder how this was determined. A few of the less familiar causes of death were scorbutus (scurvy), cerebritus (inflammation of the brain or lead poisoning), and anasarca (edema or dropsy).

  1. Anderson, A, Pvt, Co K, June 23, diarrhea c., 2380
  2. Besannon, Peter, Pvt, Co B, June 2, diarrhea, 1493
  3. Brennon, M, Pvt, Co B, July 3, dysentery c., 2833
  4. Brunkissell, H, Pvt, Co D, Aug 30, dysentery, 7306
  5. Burnham F, Cpl, Co I, Oct 11, dysentery c., 10682
  6. Bushnell, Wm. Pvt, Co D, Aug 19, cerebritis, 6184
  7. Cain, Thomas, Pvt, Co G, Sept 4, diarrhea, 7780
  8. Crawford, James, Pvt, Co A, April 28, diarrhea c., 775
  9. Easterly, Thomas, Pvt, Co G, July 31, diarrhea c., 4437
  10. Filby, A, Pvt, Co C, Sept 18, diarrhea c., 9089
  11. Fluit, C W, Pvt, Co G, March 27, diarrhea, 186
  12. Gordon, John. Pvt, Co G, July 7, diarrhea, 3028
  13. Hancock, W, Pvt, Co G, Nov 22, dysentery, 12117
  14. Hilenthal, Jas, Pvt, Co C, May 25, diarrhea, 1350
  15. Holcomb, D, Pvt, Co D, July 18, diarrhea, 3559
  16. Hughes, Ed, Pvt, Co D, June 22, diarrhea, 2330
  17. Kelley, F, Pvt, Co I, Aug 25, rheumatism, 6748
  18. Kingsbury, C, Pvt, Co K, June 3, pneumonia, 1590
  19. Leonard, W, Pvt, Co H, Aug 19, diarrhea a., 6124
  20. McCaulley, Jas, Pvt, Co D, March 20, diarrhea, 119
  21. Miller, A, Pvt, Co D, July 19, scorbutus, 3644
  22. Miller, Charles, Pvt, Co I, June 21, diarrhea a., 2295
  23. Milor, W, Sgt, Co F, Sept 20, diarrhea, 9321
  24. McCreieth, A, Pvt, Co H, Oct 10, scorbutus, 10595
  25. Orr, A, Pvt, Co H, Sept 14, scorbutus, 8276
  26. Pendalton, W, Pvt, Co C, July 6, scorbutus, 2960,
  27. Pompey, C, Pvt, Co B, July 24, diarrhea, 3868
  28. Ringwood, R, Pvt, Co J, Aug 25, diarrhea, 6798
  29. Scott W, Pvt, Co D, July 7, scorbutus, 3010
  30. Seward, G H. Pvt, Co A, June 24, dysentery c., 2406
  31. Shults, C T, Pvt, Co I, Aug 12, dysentery, 5385
  32. Smith, J, Pvt, Co I, July 18, diarrhea c., 3522
  33. Steele, Sam, Pvt, Co C, Aug 6, diarrhea c., 4892
  34. Stephens, B 11, Pvt, Aug 28, diarrhea, 7070
  35. Taylor, J, Pvt, Co I, Oct 1, scorbutus, 10142
  36. Taylor, Moses, Pvt, Co E, April 14, bronchitis, 541
  37. Thompson, Wm T, Pvt, Co I, Aug 1, diarrhea, 4443
  38. Thompson, F, Pvt, Co A, Aug 12, diarrhea c., 5427
  39. Valter, H, Pvt, Co A, July 10, anasarca, 3107
  40. Wikert, Henry, Pvt, Co C, Aug 13, dysentery, 5543

P1010037Here is a photo of the Connecticut memorial at Andersonville National Cemetery. It depicts a young Connecticut soldier looking straight ahead holding his hat in his left hand. The dedication on the bronze plaque reads:

IN MEMORY OF THE MEN OF CONNECTICUT WHO SUFFERED IN SOUTHERN MILITARY PRISONS 1861-1865